Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq: Iranian-Born Photographer Describes Brief Kidnapping

Prague, 14 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Iranian-born Abbas is a well-known photographer with the Magnum agency. Abbas, who now lives in France and whose pictures have been published around the world, was briefly kidnapped on 9 April while working in the southern Iraqi town of Al-Basrah. He described his experience in an interview with RFE/RL.

RFE/RL: What can you tell us about the circumstances surrounding your kidnapping?

Abbas: I went to Friday prayers [to take pictures]. Actually it was very interesting, because for the first time in Al-Basrah Sunnis and Shi'a were praying together against the United States, to show their support for the people being killed in Al-Fallujah. So I took pictures, and no one prevented me from taking them until the end, when I wanted to go back to the hotel and a few suspicious-looking people stopped me and a reporter from BBC radio who was with me. Immediately a minivan pulled up and they put us in there. They drove for about five minutes, at top speed.

RFE/RL: Where did they take you?

Abbas: They took us to a room. After about two minutes they told us to take off our shoes, and I realized that I was in a mosque.

RFE/RL: So the kidnappers had blindfolded you?

Abbas: We couldn't see anything. Right after they put us in the car they blindfolded us. During the two hours of our kidnapping we had blindfolds on. I asked them: "What do you want?" They kept repeating, "You are a spy, you understand Arabic." I said I didn't understand Arabic, just a few words. I told them to bring someone who speaks English or Persian to see what was going on. They didn't need to kidnap us just to figure out whether we were journalists or not. One thing that was interesting for me is that, when they kidnapped us, there were 50 Iraqi police with uniforms and guns right there. They all saw [that we were being kidnapped] and none of them reacted. It was clear that the city was under the control of Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters.

RFE/RL: Are you saying that your kidnappers were supporters of al-Sadr?

Abbas: It was clear; they said it themselves.

RFE/RL: How did they treat you?

Abbas: At one point they put a Kalashnikov against my heart and another on my shoulder. They said in Arabic, "We are going to kill you." I knew they wouldn't kill someone in a mosque; I was just scared that they would keep us as hostages. But then I thought they would not take an Iranian hostage. I had taken my Iranian passport with me because I knew the situation was getting worse and I had heard about the Japanese who had been taken hostage; I thought to myself that on the hostage-taking market, an Iranian is worth much less than a French person. Anyway, after a few questions, they told us we were free.

RFE/RL: Did they tell you exactly why you were being kidnapped?

Abbas: I think it was mostly because of the British woman from the BBC; and also I was taking photographs, so I was suspicious [in their eyes]. Then after they said we were free they gave me my cameras back and drove me and the [British] woman and left us on a road and took away the blindfolds. Unfortunately, they stole a satellite phone and a camera from us.
  • 16x9 Image

    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.